It’s the insidiously little things that lurk in the back of your mind. One of my first memories is my sister saying that she was frightened of heights. I know that for me it’s not natural to be uncertain of my ability to handle heights. Its irrational learnt behaviour and I don’t know when it will strike.
It came into my adult life unexpectedly. After a freezing cold night camped in Victoria’s high Alps we were sitting in the sunshine on top of a range they call ‘The Crosscut Saw.’ It was just a narrow path with a drop on either side. I was happy, until I stood up and froze on the spot. My companions said “How did she get up here, if she can’t get down?” It was irrational.
Irrational fear of heights presents itself suddenly when balance and confidence are required, like having to walk carefully across a narrow plank to board a ship that is anchored on the far side of another.
At Oban in Scotland, the tide had gone out and it wasn’t possible to use the gangway to board the ship. They called up to me from about three metres down in the bows, “You will have to Jump.” There was no time to think, just do it and land like a baby elephant.
But be careful of what you say, it will come back to haunt you. In North East Greenland I was known as an experienced dog sledge traveller, but the rot set in when I travelled with Jonas Pike. He was a lithe young hunter with a good team and he could place those dogs anywhere.
I made the mistake of telling him that his sledge was a magic carpet and for the next week he did his best to prove it. We would stop for our lunch break on the top of a small island frozen in the pack ice of the Greenland Sea or beside a steep drop onto the fjord below. The other sledges would be facing the path down again, but Jonas’s team and sledge would be facing a cliff. “Why aren’t you eating all your lunch?” I would answer that I was not really hungry!
When we leave Jonas leaps onto the back of the sledge to balance it. The dogs need no urging, they have no fear of heights. With a sudden burst of speed they propel themselves joyfully out over the edge. Bodies tense and twisting in mid air, tails held out for balance, legs and feet reaching for the snow below. The fast moving sledge is propelled horizontally until gravity takes over and we glide down behind them. Paws taking hold and the dogs are away, racing downhill.
One memorable occasion occurred when we were going to board a helicopter that was out on the sea ice. “Bev, go with Ziggy.” I get on the back of the skidoo and he heads for the cliff edge! He stops and says “I don’t think I can do that.” That was close!